Sean Kleier '09
Fragments of Bowdoin College History
Published in 1985, Ernst Christian Helmreich’s Fragments of Bowdoin College History is a compilation of primary sources accompanied by the author’s explanations of their history and significance. A long tenured professor of History and Political Science at Bowdoin, Helmreich focused much of his research on the history of Bowdoin College itself. In his preface, Helmreich explains how various tidbits from Bowdoin’s past had always interested him, yet he never found the time to investigate them thoroughly. This collection represents his in depth investigation of a variety of these topics, organized into three sections: ‘Items from Bowdoin’s Early History,’ ‘Commencement Honors, Their Origin and the Men Behind Them,’ and ‘Some Aspects of Life at Bowdoin.’ Indeed this manuscript is as unfocused and extensive as these titles suggest, covering bits of Bowdoin lore from the Thorndike Oak to the origins of the Lucien Howe Commencement Prize. Without any particular subject or timeframe, characters from all spectrums of Bowdoin’s history appear in this collection.
While the information available here may be disparate, it is broken down into chapters and easily located by using the table of contents. Once one has located a particular area of interest, say the ‘Early Laws’ of Bowdoin College, Helmreich typically provides a description of the subject area, a description of the foundations of the primary document, the primary document itself, and finally a few words in conclusion. While this is not solely a collection of primary documents, it has the added benefit of providing direction towards other sources. In the chapter highlighting the origins of the Phi Chi song, for example, Helmreich provides not only the original primary document of the song, but the references for his writing and research including issues of the Orient (Nov. 17 1923 pp 1-2) as well as biographical student profiles (Edward Page Mitchell, Special Collections Bio File, 1852 – 1928). This collection, then, provides insight into various aspects of the College’s culture and tradition since its inception in 1794. For students curious about Bowdoin’s past, Helmreichs’ work can certainly answer questions as to how students and faculty lived and interacted, what they valued academically and socially as well as how these aspects of Bowdoin life evolved and developed over time.
Located in Bowdoin College’s special collections, this book can be found on the third floor of Hawthorne Longfellow Library. Special collections is open from 9 to 5 Monday through Friday, and only during these hours may the book be viewed. Various measures to protect important books restrict the viewing of this book: readers may not remove the book from special collections, readers may not bring backpacks into special collections, notes must be taken in pencil while inside special collections, and photocopies may not be taken of special collections materials.